Although wheat is a staple in many diets worldwide, an increasing number of consumers are turning to more flavoursome ancient grains because they offer unique health benefits that are lacking in modern wheat. As a food trend, the interest in ancient grains seems to be growing year on year.
This is reflected here at Suma, as sales continue to increase with each quarter. These grains are appearing on more menus, on more shop shelves, and are being incorporated into more and more products.
As well as being super-tasty and full of nutrients, some of these ancient grains can also be a great gluten-free alternative for those following a special diet – this high demand is a sign that the gluten-free boom is not looking like slowing down any time soon.
Here is a little bit more information on these grains.
Pronounced ‘keen-wah’, the quinoa plant is a relative of leafy green vegetables like Swiss chard. Native to South America, it was once considered the “gold of the Incas” because its high protein content was said to give warriors strength and stamina. Rich in magnesium, iron, phosphorous and various other phytonutrients, it is claimed that quinoa may help with migraines, be good for the heart, and may help reduce the risk of diabetes, and being gluten free, is a terrific substitute for people who are wheat intolerant.
Quinoa grain has a mild, nutty flavour and a creamy, slightly crunchy texture that’s delicious.
Spelt is an ancient variety of wheat that dates back to 5000c. Although it can be used in many of the same ways as wheat, it has a broader spectrum of nutrients. It contains a moderate amount of gluten and so is not suitable for anyone with ceoliac disease.
Spelt was an important grain in ancient Greece and Rome, and is rich in magnesium, niacin, and thiamin. It’s claimed to help people with migraines, high cholesterol and diabetes.
An ancient favourite among the Aztecs and American Indians, amaranth is a tiny, grain-like seed with a nutty, malty flavour. This grain contains similar amounts of iron and calcium to wheat, and the essential amino acid lysine, that is limiting in other grains. Its flour makes a great substitute for wheat flour in gluten-free diets.
Millet is said to have originated in Ethiopia is the smallest of all grains. It is gluten free, has been eaten since prehistoric times, and is used to make roti, a traditional Indian flatbread.
Millet is mostly starch, but the protein content is close to wheat. It is claimed to be good for the heart and may help to develop and repair body tissues.
When cooked, millet can either be fluffy like rice, or creamy (by stirring it frequently and adding a little water). It can be eaten as a gluten-free porridge, or served as an alternative to rice or potatoes.
Freekeh is not gluten-free. It is made from green wheat that has been roasted. It is popular in the Middle East, Egypt and other parts of North Africa. The wheat grain is harvested early, piled high and set on fire but only the chaff and the straw burn, the high moisture content of the grain prevents it from burning. Further threshing and sun drying leave the grain cracked so that the grains look like green bulgur.
Nutritionally, some people consider freekeh to be a ‘superfood’. It is very high in fibre and has a low glycemic index making it suitable for helping to manage diabetes.
Emmer, which is not gluten-free, is set to be the next trend under the ancient grain banner. Also known as Farro (especially in Italy), Emmer is a grassy wheat and was one of the first crops domesticated in Asia. Widely cultivated in the ancient world, it now grows only in a few areas.
Emmer makes good bread and is popular in Switzerland and in Italy (pane di farro). In Tuscany, the grain is also added to soup. Our pioneering friends at Doves Farm have just launched an Emmer flour which will be available from us in July.